Cockaigne  

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"A little beyond this, we got into a sea, not of water, but of milk; and upon it we saw an island full of vines; this whole island was one compact well-made cheese ... The vines have grapes upon them, which yield not wine, but milk." --True History, Lucian

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Cockaigne or Cockayne is a mythical medieval land of plenty, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist. Specifically, in poems like The Land of Cockaigne, Cockaigne is a land of contraries, where all the restrictions of society are defied (abbots beaten by their monks), sexual liberty is open (nuns flipped over to show their bottoms), and food is plentiful (skies that rain cheeses). Writing about Cockaigne was a commonplace of Goliard verse. It represented both wish fulfillment and resentment at the strictures of asceticism and dearth.

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Descriptions

Like Atlantis and El Dorado, the land of Cockaigne was a fictional utopia, a place where, in a parody of paradise, idleness and gluttony were the principal occupations. In Specimens of Early English Poets (1790), George Ellis printed a 13th century French poem called "The Land of Cockaigne" where

the houses were made of barley sugar and cakes, the streets were paved with pastry, and the shops supplied goods for nothing.

According to Columbia University Press' reference to Herman Pleij's Dreaming of Cockaigne (2001),

roasted pigs wander about with knives in their backs to make carving easy, where grilled geese fly directly into one's mouth, where cooked fish jump out of the water and land at one's feet. The weather is always mild, the wine flows freely, sex is readily available, and all people enjoy eternal youth.

According to the New York Public Library (ref.), Cockaigne was a

medieval peasant’s dream, offering relief from backbreaking labor and the daily struggle for meager food.

The Brothers Grimm collected and retold the fairy tale in The Tale About the Land of Cockaigne (Das Märchen vom Schlaraffenland).

Traditions

A Neapolitan tradition, extended to other Latin-culture countries, is the Cockaigne pole, a horizontal or vertical pole with a prize (like a ham) at one end. The pole is covered with grease or soap and planted during a festival. Then, daring people try to climb the slippery pole to get the prize. The crowd laughs at the often failed attempts to hold to the pole.

Cockaigne in the arts

  • Cockaigne was depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in The Land of Cockaigne (1567.
  • The poem, The Land of Cokaygne,appears in BL Harley MS 913, ff. 3r-63v (The Kildare Poems, #1); modern English translation
  • The book, Dreaming of Cockaigne, by Herman Pleij (Columbia University Press, 2001) offers the most complete modern collection of information on the topic.
  • The musical play, The Golden Dream, by Joe Syiek [1] tells the story of oppressed peasants who yearn for, attain and ultimately lose their ideal of Cockaigne.
  • The album Land of Cockayne by Soft Machine, 1981.
  • Cockaigne is the name of the kingdom which Princess Narda in the comic strip Mandrake the Magician comes from.
  • Cockaigne (In London Town) is a concert overture composed by Edward Elgar in 1901.
  • Ego sum abbas Cucaniensis (I am the Abbot of Cockaigne) is a movement in Carl Orff's secular cantata, Carmina Burana.
  • "Bruegel in the Land of Cockaigne" is the heading of the second chapter of T. J. Clark's 2002 Tanner Lectures on Human Values "Painting at Ground Level".
  • In the popular cookbook The Joy of Cooking, the author's favorite recipes include "Cockaigne" in the name, (e.g., "Fruit Cake Cockaigne"), explained in the foreword to the 1975 edition as after the name of the Becker country home in Anderson Township, near Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • Cockaigne is the name of a small Australian record label, run by musicians Dave Graney and Clare Moore.
  • "Big Rock Candy Mountain" is a song about a hobo's idea of paradise - a modern version of the medieval concept of Cockaigne.
  • In Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, Salvatore's escape from his parents home "assumed the aspect of the land of Cockaigne." Umberto Eco, "The Name of the Rose", Warner Books 1986, page 220
  • In Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before, Cockaigne is evoked in a passage describing an ice-tipped mountain. "...an exquisite eruption in a land of Cockaigne." Umberto Eco, "The Island of the Day Before", Penguin Books 1996, page 64
  • The painting, Cockaigne, is a painting by Vincent Desiderio done in 2003
  • In Raymond Roussel's Impressions of Africa, The sculpter Fuxier throws blue pastilles into a river to produce images for his audience. The last of the images took the appearance of one half of a clock-face, which Fuxier described as "The wind-clock in the land of Cockaigne." Raymond Roussel, "Impressions of Africa", Calderand Boyars Ltd 1966, page 698

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cockaigne" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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